October 30, 2016, I attended the last performance of Rossini’s Cinderella (It. La Cenerentola) presented by San Diego Opera. To my surprise, I found the production charming, delightful, funny and musically well executed. I say “to my surprise,” because as noted in my comments on the Los Angeles Opera production in March of 2013, I have previously never liked this opera (presented twice before in San Diego in 1983 and 1996) analogizing it to “Barber of Seville without the tunes.” (Of course, the last tune was taken from Barber). Although I complimented the Los Angeles production’s use of giant mice and the performances of Kate Aldrich (Angelina) and René Barbera (Prince), I felt the overture was the best music in the entire opera.
For whatever reason, San Diego Opera’s production, which originated with New Zealand Opera, was an unalloyed success. Rossini’s opera is, in itself, a more down-to-earth version of the classic fairytale, and thus Director Lindy Hume’s decision to set it in Dickensian London did not jar. Further, there was much cut from the long First Act (still 90 minutes long) to keep the work from running over three hours. I think in the past, I have found the slight material not to hold up for the length of the presentation. This was not a problem with this production. What may have been the most notable difference for me, were the ample, clever comic moments included by the director. Many of these moments accompanied the music beautifully.
Additionally, for the first time, I developed more of an appreciation for the music-from the Overture-to Cinderella’s longing opening song- to the ensembles and the wonderful choruses, so well staged and well performed by San Diego Opera’s wonderful chorus, often dancing away on stage.
Among the cast members tenor David Portillo stood out as the Prince, Don Ramiro, for his beautiful, high, flexible and light tenor voice. We seem to have an enormous supply of Rossini tenors these days, but I am not complaining about another one. I also admired baritone José Adán Pérez’s Dandini, the Prince’s valet, especially his comic moments imitating the Prince and his crestfallen physique when having to return to his normal servitude. Bass Stefano de Peppo was a fine Don Magnifico, funny, but at times genuinely malignant, and the wicked stepsisters were well played by contralto Alissa Anderson and soprano Susannah Biller.
Angelina/Cinderella was movingly performed by Lauren McNeese. She was billed on the program as a soprano rather than the usual mezzo-soprano, which may explain her agility in the high coloratura. Although she may have lacked the rich low notes of Cinderellas past, this did not bother me.
The San Diego Symphony, under Conductor Gary Thor Wedow played Rossini’s brilliant music brilliantly.
I now looking forward to a very different experience from San Diego Opera, David T. Little's chamber opera, Soldier Songs, premiering at the Balboa Theatre on Veteran's Day, November 11, 2016.